Special Needs Children and Custody

special needs childEvery divorce or child custody dispute brings stress and sometimes even chaos to the family unit.  The parents and the children are trying to cope with the changes to their day-to-day lives, and this may even include changes to living arrangements, schools, or careers.  Parents and courts will make a decision on custody and visitation arrangements based on what is in the children’s best interests.  These best interest factors can be found in Minnesota Statute Section 518.17, and include a long list of considerations for a trial judge.  The second factor states that a court must consider “any special medical mental health, or educational needs that the child may have that may require special parenting arrangements or access to recommended services.”  It is therefore clear that the Minnesota legislature has specifically recognized that a special needs child has particular requirements that a trial judge needs to think through before making his or her final custody determination.  There are many issues that parents and judges alike should not overlook when considering what is best for a special needs child.

One of the first considerations should be the services the child receives, such as physical therapy, special and frequent medical treatment, or mental health treatment.  One parent may have a work or school schedule that makes it impossible or very difficult to make sure the child gets to necessary appointments.  If that is the case, that parent will probably not be the best choice for the primary custodian of the child.  The distance each parent will be living from the different treatment facilities should also be considered in order to reduce the amount of travel time as much as possible.  Similarly, if a child needs to attend a particular school with special programs, attention should be paid to the school’s schedule in relation to the parent’s work schedule as well as the distance of the school from each parent’s respective residence.

Another very important consideration is how the child adapts to change.  Some children with special needs require a much higher degree of daily structure and routine.  Children with these types of preferences and requirements may not thrive with a schedule that requires them to go back and forth between the parents’ households frequently.

Finally, parents and courts should consider which parent has historically been the primary caregiver.  This is not only because a child may not do well with a sudden change in routine, but also because, especially in the case of a medically fragile child, one parent may be much better acquainted with how to provide the daily care for the child.

We understand that every child is different and you need an experienced attorney to help you craft a child custody proposal that is tailored for your child’s needs. Contact us today at (651) 371-9117 to discuss your special needs child and what we can do to help you with your future.